LAND'S END - The Olympic flame was greeted by thousands of cheering spectators as it began its 70-day relay journey around Britain and Ireland on Saturday ahead of the 2012 London Games. Triple gold medal-winning yachtsman Ben Ainslie was the first torchbearer, setting off from Land's End, England's most southwesterly point, before a succession of runners carried the flame through Cornwall to Plymouth. With the Atlantic Ocean glistening behind him in the early morning sunshine, Ainslie waited while the flame was flown to Land's End by a Royal Navy search and rescue helicopter.
Lieutenant Commander Richard Full carried the flame off the helicopter in a golden lantern and took it a short distance to light the torch Ainslie was holding.
The yachtsman then set off, barely breaking into a jog as he let some of the 3,500 spectators lining the route touch the golden torch whose design has seen it nicknamed the "cheese grater".
After travelling barely 300 metres (yards), he used his torch to light an identical one held by 18-year-old Tassy Swallow, a surfer who is hoping her sport will one day become an Olympic discipline.
Over the next 10 weeks, the flame will travel 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometres) around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and will also visit the Republic of Ireland.
Some 8,000 people will take part in the torch relay as it heads for the Olympic Stadium in east London for the opening ceremony on July 27.
Ainslie, who just a day earlier won a sixth world title in the Finn class as he steps up his efforts to win a fourth Olympic gold, said it had been a special moment for him to start the relay in his home county.
"I would say that particular moment ranks right up there with winning a gold medal," said Britain's greatest Olympic yachtsman, who wore the number 001 on his white London 2012 top.
"It was pretty emotional, so much effort has gone into getting the Olympics in London and it means so much to everyone involved."